Matthew Yglesias has sparked a bit of a hubbub over on Slate, by suggesting that "food drives are a terrible idea," and encouraging potential donors instead to "Can the cans. Hand over some cash."
All across America, charitable organizations and the food industry have set up mechanisms through which emergency food providers can get their hands on surplus food for a nominal handling charge. Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that food providers can get what they need for “pennies on the dollar.” She estimates that they pay about 10 cents a pound for food that would cost you $2 per pound retail. You’d be doing dramatically more good, in basic dollars and cents terms, by eating that tuna yourself and forking over a check for half the price of a single can of Chicken of the Sea.
Beyond the economies of scale are the overhead costs. Charities are naturally reluctant to turn down donations for fear of alienating supporters or demoralizing well-wishers, but the reality is that dealing with sporadic surges of cans is a logistical headache. A nationwide network of food banks called Feeding America gingerly notes on its website that “a hastily organized local food drive can actually put more strain on your local food bank than you imagine.” Food dropped off by well-meaning citizens needs to be carefully inspected and sorted. A personal check, by contrast, can be used to order what’s needed without placing extra burdens on the staff.
There you go. All the more reason to fork over a few bucks to our Slog vs. Gawker Holiday Charity Challenge. Sure, dumping a few packs of mac and cheese into the bin at your local food drive may make you feel almost as warm and fuzzy inside as eating them, but you'll feed a lot more people donating the cash equivalent. According to Northwest Harvest, it costs them "only 67 cents to feed a family of three a meal." Bet you can't feed yourself for 67 cents, let alone your whole family.
Think about it: A mere $60 donation would be enough for Northwest Harvest to feed a family of three for an entire month! So give today, then email your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to enter in a drawing to win fabulous prizes, plus earn yourself the coveted "Awesome Person" tag.